Skin Sores, Goats, and Transformation

Let’s face it: Leviticus is the grave yard of all well-intended Christians who resolved to read through the bible in a year. This is mostly because we usually have no idea what to make of it. And, we are stumped as to how, in our world, this portion of scripture is “living and active” and “profitable for teaching and reproof and for correction and training in righteousness.” It seems miles away from transformational.

Recently, I was reading the little episode (chs 8-9) where Moses, according to God’s instructions, installs the whole sacrificial system, including its priests. Did it all work? Yes, God made his presence known by consuming the sacrifice with fire and all the people dropped to the ground and worship (9:24). So far, so good. Then I began the next chapter:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. (Lev 10:1-2)

Shocking. But, what’s even more shocking are God’s instructions that follow: Aaron was to remain silent and not to mourn openly for his sons, nor leave the tabernacle as the high priest. My thoughts immediately went to, “How do I apply this to me?” Maybe I shouldn’t go to funerals. I’m a priest in Christ, right? (1 Peter 2:9) Seriously, what should my attitude be when those who are obviously outside the will of God die? Is God saying, “don’t even waste your time grieving for them?”

Also, apparently Nadab and Abihu might have been drunk when they performed temple rituals. I noticed God’s SUI (sacrificing under the influence) instruction in 10:8. Again, my knee-jerk reaction is, “What does this mean for me?” Wanting to prevent my own calamity, I concluded: See—this is another reason why I should avoid drinking. No drinking, no judgment.

Looking back on that encounter in Scripture, I was surprised at just how quickly I created an “action list,” hoping to ease the tension. My impulse for an alcohol-funeral moratorium missed what God was revealing about himself and the brokenness and opposition I share with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu.

But, wanting to experience true transformation, I pressed on by asking the two questions from New Staff Training:

What does this passage reveal about our nature that requires redemption?

Aaron really did need God to tell him not to grieve over his own sons. Not because He wanted to set a precedence for how we should respond when sinners die, but because at that very moment, God was creating a living picture of what Jesus would put into words 1500 years later, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matt 10:37) Nadab and Abihu had treated God’s holiness so lightly and casually. In that very instant, Aaron’s public response would communicate volumes about the worth of God. Mourning would have tempted the whole community to think God was unjust or cruel. Suspicion would prey on their weakness, eroding their devotion to God. Before the people and by Aaron, God insisted he be seen as holy.

Let me put it another way by illustrating it in my own fallenness. This is the same pull I feel when I want to side with a friend against my own faithfulness to God himself. It is the same condition I experience when I am tempted to minimize God’s holiness and justify my own dishonesty or rebellion. “It’s not a big deal,” I tell myself. And, in so doing, I am publically proclaiming, God isn’t worth all of my obedience. And, like Nadab and Abihu, I should have been toasted years ago.

What does this passage reveal about God’s nature in providing redemption?

But, the beauty from ashes (literally) in this passage, is that God’s commitment to his holiness is matched by his mercy towards his people. The whole sacrificial system (Lev 1-7) enabled his holy presence to be experienced by his people.

Regular sacrifices pointed to the ultimate sacrifice, where ultimate holiness meets ultimate mercy. Jesus, who was be put to death for our sin and also lived a perfectly obedient life on our behalf, secured our holy status before God as priests and welcomes us into his family as sons and daughters.

Through this passage God moves me to praise him as holy and to wholly embrace his mercy in Christ.